I was then the chief of bureau at the Hindustan Times’s Mumbai bureau. Our correspondent in Gujarat had just proceeded on leave and we could not track him down in a hurry. So we decided to dispatch correspondents from the Mumbai bureau to Gujarat.
VB was among the first correspondents from outside Gujarat to have reached Baroda en route to Godhra. And, in the manner of all good reporters, had decided to visit the main mosque in that city for the Friday afternoon prayers before going onward to the city where the train had been burned down.
He had been sipping tea outside the mosque as the namaaz finished and was waiting for the worshippers to pour out. Even as the first namaazi stepped out and he stepped forward to speak to the man, he found a bullet whizzing past him and a fraction of a second later the namaazi was lying dead on the street outside the mosque.
VB thought that might have been an accident but then he found bullets whizzing in just one direction – from the cops towards the mosque and the street was littered with bodies within seconds. He was sharp enough to realise what was happening but stupid enough not to know that he must not give his identity away. So he whipped out his notebook to write down what he was witnessing.
That was enough provocation for those who looked like Vishwa Hindu Parishad workers, hanging around with the cops. These guys, as VB told me, were armed with all sorts of non-firearms like swords, choppers, butcher knives et al. They lunged for VB even as he ran for his life. “Later I found myself in a near-by hospital.’’
Apparently, even as he was running for his life, his mind switched off and his responses were automatic. “Those armed men followed me into hospital but probably did not have courage to enter the wards. I could hear the ruckus they were making. Then, after sometime, the noises died down and all went quiet.’’
It took an hour or more for the numbness of both mind and body to disappear. Traumatised as he was, his report was brilliant—and chilling.